Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.
Showing posts with label Abolition of Man. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Abolition of Man. Show all posts

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Repentance and Science: C. S. Lewis and the Natural Law

ULTIMATELY FOR LEWIS THE CHOICE BEFORE MAN is one of two paths. Either he goes left and rejects the Tao and becomes inhuman, a thing, subject to the whims and arbitrary impulses of appetite, or he goes right, the way of the Tao and keeps his human dignity by bowing to its absolute, objective authority. Tertium non datur. There is no third way where we can have both: we cannot be both human and inhuman, a human being and a thing.

We have been trying, like Lear,* to have it both ways: to lay down our human prerogative and yet at the same time to retain it. It is impossible. Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own 'natural' impulses.

Abolition, 73. The Tao is not only the vehicle that assures our human dignity, it is the an omnibus law that covers both ruler and ruled, and so orders the entirety of intra-human relations:
Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.
Abolition, 73. The Tao is that law of liberty, the law of perfect liberty, the νόμον τέλειον τὸν τῆς ἐλευθερίας (James 1:25).

The rejection of the Tao is not limited to Communists, to Fascists. The rejection of the Tao is found not only among "enemies," but among false friends. It is every bit as prevalent in world's democracies, where the rejection of the Tao is equally as real, though "[t]he methods may (at first) differ in brutality." Abolition, 73. The basic sin is the "belief that we can invent 'ideologies' at pleasure, and the consequent treatment of mankind as mere ὕλη," mere stuff. Abolition, 74. The thought insinuates itself in euphemisms, in newspeak, in political correctness, in calling a fetus the "product of conception," or support for the intentional killing of human beings "pro-choice," or speaking of the incongruous right of two men or two women to "marriage."

We have, it would seem, entered into a Faustian bargain, a "magician's bargain," where the cloth we have exchanged becomes all unraveled, where we are forced to surrender "object after object," and finally even ourselves in our quest for power over Nature. Science is the new Magic, the new Gnosis. Francis Bacon and Marlowe's Faustus are blood brothers. Science and Magic were, in fact, brothers born of the same womb. Science is the senior branch, and Magic the cadet branch.
The serious magical endeavour and the serious scientific endeavour are twins: one was sickly and died, the other strong and throve. But they were twins. They were born of the same impulse. . . . There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the 'wisdom' of the earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution of technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious--such as digging up and mutilating the dead.
Abolition, 77. It may be time, before it is too late, for us to reconsider the nonserviamatic attitude that spawned science. We must be honest with science's pedigree. Though science may not be "tainted from birth," it was at least "born in an unhealthy neighborhood," and "at an inauspicious moment." Science is heady with success. It sees not its destructive wake. It is sees only the good it has ushered in, but is completely blind to the evil it has spawned, to the good that it has squelched. Science is like the little child who insists that his room is clean and in order, when it most obviously is not. "[R]econsideration, and something like repentance, may be required." Abolition, 78. Lewis calls for a "regenerate science," one that sees the sacred in the cosmos, one that "would not do even to minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to do to man himself," one that would not only focus on the "It," but would also focus on the "I-Thou," that would recognize the "inly known reality of conscience" and not reduce "conscience to the category of Instinct." Abolition, 79. I would, not, however, hold my breath for it. Hubris, pride, like sexual lust, is a particularly hard sin to cure. "Perhaps," Lewis concludes, "I am asking impossiblities." Yet science must self-discipline. It must incur some self-flagellation. But it seems unable, as it believes itself subject to some law of exceptionalism, that it cannot be corrupt, that it will always have a handle on its fruits.

Such a reply springs from the fatal serialism of the modern imagination--the image of infinite unilinear progression which so haunts our minds. Because we have to use numbers so much we tend to thing of every process as if it must be like the numerical series, where every step, to all eternity, is the same kind of step as the one before. . . . There are progressions in which the last step is sui generis--incommensurable with the others--and in which to go the whole way is to undo all the labour of your previous journey.

Abolition, 80.

It may be that science is more like a drug addict or an alcoholic who insists his life is altogether right and in control, when it is obvious that he is not in control, but is controlled, and that he is on a collision course with destruction. That last fix may be fatal. It may be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

It is time to go back to first principles.
It is not use trying to 'see through' first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To 'see through' all things is the same as not to see.
Abolition, 81.

It is to become an H. G. Wellsian Invisible Man. We will become Griffin. We do not see man as he is, and we slowly lapse into insanity. Only when we are beaten and put to death as Griffin in H. G. Wells's Invisible Man shall we appear again as we really are: naked and without shame. But the lack of shame that comes with death is altogether different from the lack of shame that came with life, and that Adam, in his paradisaical bliss, enjoyed.

*The reference is to King Lear, who, in Shakespeare's play seeks both to relieve himself of the burden of kingship yet retain the authority of the office. You cannot yield kingship without yielding the benefits or its office and you cannot maintain kingship without carrying the burdens of office. The choice is either/or, not both/and.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Nature's Vengeance: C. S. Lewis and the Natural Law

LEWIS FEARS, AND HIS FEARS ARE REASONABLE ENOUGH, that the "Conditioners"--those people in whom the power over human nature shall rest--will not be governed by the Tao. Indeed, their very enterprise--to control human nature, to govern it, to dispose of it as they see fit--means to supersede the Tao. They have already soiled their hands, committed the great, unforgivable sin against the Tao, to be in the position they are in. Without the Tao reigning, arbitrariness is king. "Everything except the sic volo, sic jubeo has been explained away."* Abolition, 65. There is no more right, and the human will slips through any sieve of rational or spiritual standard, as if it were the thinnest and most mercurial of fluids. "If you will not obey the Tao, or else commit suicide, obedience to impulse (and therefore, in the long run, to mere 'nature') is the only course left open."**

There is not much hope that anything will manage the impulse of those who hold the power over human nature. Look at the controversy in trying to control those who would experiment on human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) or dabble in human cloning. These "Conditioners," who seek to trespass the Tao and treat the human embryo, indeed, the human person, as a thing, cry foul each time any restriction is placed upon their will. Their only ethics is power and control over human nature, though they dress it up in their view of the good.

Indeed, if history is to be referenced, it is dubious indeed that man, once holding rein over other men, will use that power for the common good: "I am very doubtful," says Lewis, "whether history shows us one example of a man who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently." Abolition, 66.

But nature is not so easily fooled, and when deprived of the Tao and shown out the front door, she returns to the back with arbitrary, irrational, and darkened mien. Nature is not only reason and standard, but will and impulse, chaos run amok, and that is how she comes to take over her household from the back porch. She wields the sharpened knife and the wild-eyed look of a mad termagant.

At the moment, then, of Man's victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely 'natural'--to their irrational impulses. Nature, untrammeled by values, rules the Conditioner and, through them, all humanity. Man's conquest of nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature's conquest of Man. . . . We thought we were beating her back when she was luring us on. . . . Nature will be troubled no more by the restive species that rose in revolt against her so many millions of years ago, will be vexed no longer by its chatter of truth and mercy and beauty and happiness. Ferum victorem cepit*** . . . .

Abolition, 68.

The Demystification of the World

Lewis elaborates by retracing the evolution of the thinking that has got us to where we are. The scientific revolution, and its attitude to nature as simply a subject matter to work with, has had its price. In the main, the benefits derived from its techniques are too tempting for us. But to deny the consideration we have had to pay is not to recognize the cost associated with the bargain. There has been a progressive de-mystification of reality--it is the disenchantment, the Entzauberung of the world, that Max Weber spoke of a century or so ago.
We do not look at trees either as Dryads or as beautiful objects while we cut them into beams: the first man who dis so may have felt the price keenly, and the bleeding trees in Virgil and Spenser may be far-off echoes of that primeval sense of impiety. The stars lost their divinity as astronomy developed, and the Dying God has no place in chemical agriculture.
Abolition, 71. Something of great beauty has been lost in this process. And what is true of rustling trees and shivering leaves, of stars flickering gently in the carapace of the heavens above, of the silent death of germinating grains of wheat, the example of which the Lord himself ennobled (cf. John 12:20:36), is seventy-times-seven true, when the scientific and exploitative enterprise touches man.
O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew—
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To touch, her being só slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been . . . .
Hopkins, "Binsey Poplars."

Not only is something of great beauty lost, a hugeous truth is lost:
It is not the greatest of modern scientists who feel most sure that the object, stripped of its qualitative properties and reduced to mere quantity, is wholly real. Little scientists, and little unscientific followers of science, may think so. The great minds know very well that the object, so treated, is an artificial abstraction, that something of its reality is lost.
Abolition, 70-71. Emphasis on the empirical by our scientific and exploitative Horatios has made us too familiar with matter, and we have lost the sense of "strangeness" that is required to have wonder with respect to the greater reality behind the detail of the empirical:
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Shakespeare, Hamlet act 1, sc. 5, 159–167.

*The reference "sic volo, sic jubeo" refers to "sic volo, sic jubeo, stet pro ratione voluntas," which, translated, means, "thus I wish, thus I insist, my will shall stand as reason." It is a popular though inaccurate quotation from the Roman satirist Juvenal, who actually stated without changing the meaning much: "Hoc volo, sic jubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas." Satires VI. 223. Martin Luther, a "Conditioner" of the Word of God, after being accused of conditioning the biblical text to conform to his teaching by adding "alone" to Romans 3:28 (So halten wir nun dafür, daß der Mensch gerecht werde ohne des Gesetzes Werke, allein durch den Glauben. The Greek text does not warrant the addition of the adverb "allein" or "alone": λογιζόμεθα γὰρ δικαιοῦσθαι πίστει ἄνθρωπον χωρὶς ἔργων νόμου), fittingly adopted Juvenal's saying: Sic volo, sic jubeo. Sit pro ratione voluntas. Lutherus ita vult, et ait se doctorem esse super omnes doctores in toto papatu. "Thus I wish, thus I command. Let my will stand for a reason. Luther wishes it so, and says that he is a teacher above all the teachers in the whole of the Papacy." Not particularly submissive, but then again, when was Luther submissive?
**By "nature" Lewis means here natural or irrational impulses or urges, whims: "heredity, digestion, the weather, and the association of ideas." Abolition, 67. He does not mean nature as a stable standard. "Chance here means Nature." Basically, the will of the Conditioner is what sets the standard for human nature.
***Ferum victorem cepit: it took captive its savage conqueror. From Horace's Epistles where he describes how the culture of the conquered Greeks took over their savage Roman conquerors, so that the defeated actually conquered the defeators: Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artis intulit agresti Latio. "Conquered Greece took captive her savage conqueror and brought her arts into rustic Latium." Bk II, epist. i.156-157.
****Virgil, Aeneid, III.24-35; Spenser, Fairie Queene, I.ii ("He pluck'd a Bough; out of whose Rift there came / Small drops of gory Blood, that trickled down the same.") The reference to the "Dying God," the Deus moriendi, is a reference to the various myths, both Eastern and Western, of a dying good, most frequently related to agriculture, but such myth, and the intimation of reality, the logos, that was behind it, became flesh, and is historically true in the God-become-Man Christ Jesus. As Lewis himself put it in the book of essays God in the Dock:
The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens — at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.
C. S. Lewis, "Myth Become Fact," in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1967), 66-67.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Power over Nature Corrupts: C. S. Lewis and the Natural Law

ANY POWER WRESTED BY MAN FROM NATURE MUST END UP under someone's control. After all, power, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If that power is over human nature, then where that power ends up, and what its effect will be on the holder of that power, is of particular significance. The recipients of that power are called by Lewis the "Conditioners." If they are unconstrained by the Tao, the natural law, then the question natural arises: by what, then, will they be governed? The "Conditioners," if ungoverned by the Tao, will hold the keys to right and to wrong (not in a metaphysical, true sense, but in a practical, sitz in leben, for-all-practical-purposes sense).

The Tao has some staying power. Accumulated social capital, like a hard-earned savings account one inherits, takes some time to spend. Like social capital, if the inheritance is not added to, inflation or natural erosion can have its effect, especially if there are constant withdrawals. But over time--it is a certainty--the failure to save, earn dividends, and the propensity to invade principal will lead to the exhaustion of capital, both social and financial. Bankruptcy is the result. In the long run, we will all be paupers.

So likewise with the "Conditioners" if they are inculturated in the Tao. But it will not take long for the very holding of the reins of power to corrupt them, to draw them out of the way of the Tao. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and power of one's nature, the most absolute power of all, corrupts like possession of the Platonic Ring of Gyges or the Tolkienesque One Ring of the Dark Lord Sauron corrupts all who bear it:

The One Ring of Sauron
Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul,
Ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.

One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them,
One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
From being under nature, to being over nature is simply too heady a temptation for man, whose moral brain collapses in cerebral edema caused by the ethical thin air, the death zone of morality, where autonomy is joined with power over others. There is no such thing as duty, or good for that matter, if one is the master of it all:

Duty itself is up for trial: it cannot also be the judge. And 'good' fares no better. They [the "Conditioners"] know quite well how to produce a dozen different conceptions of good in us. The question [for them] is which, if any, they should produce. No conception of good can help them decide.

Abolition, 62-63. Indeed, to suggest that the "Conditioners" are subject to the Tao is to suggest that they still have not conquered human nature. But the very desire of modern Promethean man is to steal the power to define man's nature from nature, which is the same thing as saying to steal it from God. How--when the end is autonomy--can the means be anything but autonomy?
If they accept [the Tao], then they are no longer the makers of conscience but still its subjects, and their final conquest over Nature has not really happened. . . . . Every motive they try to act on becomes at once a petition. . . . Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void. They are not men at all: they are artefacts.
Abolition, 64. "Force," says Simone Weil in her marvelous essay, The Iliad or the Poem of Force, "is that which makes a thing of whoever submits to it. Exercised to the extreme, it makes the human being a thing . . . ."* But it also makes the one who exercise the power over the other a thing. When man becomes a thing, an artifact, then man is no longer man. We have come to the "abolition of Man." To conquer our nature means to make us a thing, which means to abolish ourselves, for if man is a thing he he is no longer man, for, as Sartre said--in a sort of unwitting Caiphatic prophecy**--man is no thing, l'homme n'est pas une chose.

*Simone Weil, The Iliad or The Poem of Force (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2006) (Holoka, James P., trans. & ed.) 45.
**Cf. John 11:45 ff.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Within and Without the Tao: C. S. Lewis and the Natural Law

NEITHER IN UTILITARIAN FACT NOR IN FELT INSTINCT will a system of moral values be found. To seek an ought from a consequential fact or from an instinctive or psychological fact is doomed to failure. Moral values, the oughtness-engine that drives moral norms, can only be found in one place: the Tao or the natural law, and it traverses across cultures and history. For example, the Tao that forms the basis that it may be good to die for our country is found in the lips of man, sage, philosopher, and playwright, and even on the lips of God.
All within the four seas are his brothers
(Confucius, Analects, xii.5)

I am man: nothing human is foreign to me.
Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto.
(Terence, Heautontimorumenos 1.1.25)

All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them.
Πάντα οὖν ὅσα ἐὰν θέλητε ἵνα ποιῶσιν ὑμῖν οῖ ἄνθρωποι οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς ποιεῖτε αὐτοῖς
Omnia ergo quaecumque vultis ut faciant vobis homines et vos facite eis.
(Jesus, Matthew 7:12)

Humanity is to be preserved.
(John Locke, Second Treatise, III.16)
Here are statements of the Tao traversing culture and time, statements of the natural law which the liberal subjectivist, so disdainful of an
"This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgments."
--C. S. Lewis
objective reality about him that informs value, simply cannot find any source for. Unless such fundamental expressions of the natural law are accepted as givens, as self-evident, "as being to the world of action what axioms are to the world of theory, you can have no practical principles whatever." Abolition, 40. The individual injunctions of the Tao are starting points, premises, and not conclusions derived from something yet more basic. The Tao is the fundamental oughtness from which all other norms of oughtness are deduced. An ought cannot be dismissed from reality, from its role in practical reason, because it cannot show a pedigree built upon an is. "If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved" in the world of theoretical or speculative reason. "Similarly if nothing is obligatory for its own sake, nothing is obligatory at all." Abolition, 40.

The moral feltness of the Tao may be confused with, perhaps even categorized as a sort of sentiment. If the Tao is categorized as sentiment, then sentiment ceases to be purely subjective and so it ought not to contrasted to rationality or reason. On the other hand, if the Tao is considered rational, then reason must be regarded as practical. Either sentiment must be broadened to include reason, or reason must be broadened to include the practical. However one views the Tao, it is the foundation from which all reasonable morality springs.

This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgments. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world. . . . The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of inventing a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.

Abolition, 43-44. The Tao is simply part of reality, and to chose part of it and reject another part, or to reject all of it, is to engage in self-deception, to venture into the unreal. It is the very opposite of Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem: it is ex veritate in umbras et imagines.**

The Tao is Not Writ on Tablets of Stone

That is not to say that the Tao is like the Ten Commandments, writ in stone (or at least once writ in stone, and now writ on paper) or like the Leges Duodecim Tabularum, the Twelve Tables of the Law of the Romans, writ in gold tablets and placed in the center of the Forum Romanum for all to see and none to contest. No, the Tao is evidenced in a number of traditions, West and East, across time and place and culture, and with varying levels of insight and of purity. We may also find contradictions, or apparent contradictions, and opposing principles. Accordingly, the Tao requires an active and critical intellect, and so also allows for development, if not of the Tao itself, at least of our understanding of it:
Some criticism, some removal of contradictions, even some real development, is required. But there are two kinds of criticism. . . . It is the difference between alteration from within and alteration from without: between the organic and the surgical.
Abolition, 45. In other words, development is legitimate if we approach the Tao in a spirit of humility, as learners, as discoverers. Development will be illegitimate if we approach the Tao as critics, as judges, in a spirit of hubris and skepticism. "You must not hold a pistol to the head of the Tao." Abolition, 49.

"From within the Tao itself comes the only authority to modify the Tao. . . . Outside the Tao there is no ground for criticizing the Tao or anything else." Abolition, 47-48. It is the difference between being an Aristotle or a St. Thomas Aquinas or a Richard Hooker versus being a Hobbes or a Hume or a Nietzsche. It is the difference between being a Stoic or a Sophist and a Skeptic. We must therefore approach the Tao with some trepidation, some fear and trembling, in the matter of the Aristotelian σπουδαῖος (spoudaios), or man who lives rightly, what Lewis refers to as the "well-nurtured man, the cuor gentil." Abolition, 49. To be in one group of critics is entirely different from being found among the other group. In a rather vivid image:

It like the difference between a man who says to us: 'you like your vegetables moderately fresh; why not grow your own and have them perfectly fresh?' and a man who says, 'Throw away that loaf and try eating bricks and centipedes instead.'

Abolition, 46. It is the difference between being open minded in the area of conclusions and being open minded in the area of fundamental premises. "An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundation either of Theoretical or Practical Reason is idiocy." Abolition, 48.

Since the scientific revolution, modern man has had a disposition, learned from Francis Bacon, to bind nature into servility, to hound her in her wanderings, and to put her on the rack and torture her for her secrets. The temptation to do so to the Tao is great, as modern man abhors any limits. Sapere audem. Dare to know. The Enlightenment's motto. Kant's creed. Why should modern man stop at the Tao? "Why not this? Why must our conquest of nature stop short, in stupid reverence, before this final and toughest bit of 'nature' which has hitherto been called the conscience of man?" Abolition, 50. The modern says in Nietzschean madness, in Sartrean hubris, and in full nonserviamic Satanic revolt: "Having mastered our environment, let us now master ourselves and choose our own destiny." Abolition, 51.

Giving the devil his due, Lewis cautiously states: "This is a very possible position." And at least it has the merit of not being inconsistent like that thinking of a man in the middle who debunks traditional ethics even while not casting it totally aside. It is not a lukewarm theory. It is not a theory hot with the Tao. It is a cold, bitter cold theory. The man who holds this is bold, nihilistic, and rejects the concept of value altogether. What do we say to the man who would make himself God, who would make himself a self-creator, an autonomous self-legislator, a judge of his own cause, whose errant libido sciendi may bribe the objectivity of his existence, his law, and his judgment?
*See Locke's Second Treatise of Civil Government (Chapter III.16): "By the fundamental law of nature, man being to be preserved as much as possible, when all cannot be preserved, the safety of the innocent is to be preferred: and one may destroy a man who makes war upon him, or has discovered an enmity to his being." A better quote would have been Lactantius? "Therefore humanity is to be preserved, if we wish rightly to be called men." Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, VI.11.
**Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem, which means out of the shades and imaginings into the truth (perhaps a reference to Plato's allegory of the cave) was the early motto of the recently-beatified John Henry Newman. The motto of the liberal (C. S. Lewis calls such a one as an Innovator) who rejects the Tao may be said to be exactly the opposite: ex veritate in umbras et imagines, out of the truth and into the shades and imaginings.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Man is "Instinkt Arm": C. S. Lewis and the Natural Law

PURE REASON WRESTED FROM ANY NOTION OF THE TAO, of the natural law, leads pretty much to a dead end in explaining moral oughtness, at least if utilitarian calculus is invoked. As we saw in our last posting, C. S. Lewis hoists the utilitarian with his own Humean petard. Having stung the liberals with the failure of their reason-without-Tao to explain moral oughtness, C. S. Lewis then explores an alternative explanation frequently posited by the relativists: instinct, most fundamentally the instinct of preserving the species. Here we enter into the Hobbesian apologetic, the Hobbesian brutal, nasty, short-lived world where the moral law is dumbed down to red tooth and red claw. We fall from Seneca's noble sentiment, Homo sacra res homini, man is something sacred to man, to the vicious Plautian bruteness, homo homini lupus, man is a wolf to man. The Tao can be disposed of as, in the final analysis, conventional, at best. It is for the weak. The real law is dark, ominous, and completely self-regarding and Darwinian:

We have no instinctive urge to keep promises or to respect individual life: that is why scruples of justice and humanity--in fact the Tao--can be properly swept away when they conflict with our real end, the preservation of the species.

Abolition, 33. The Hobbesian ethic gets even more vicious as man's technical progress virtually assures his survival, so that the sole basis of morality becomes literally dispensable. Thus man is able to dismantle virtually any natural law, any natural institution, beginning with sex and with the advocacy of contraception:*
That . . . is why the modern situation permits and demands a new sexual morality: the old taboos served some real purpose in helping to preserve the species, but contraceptives have modified this and now we can abandon many of the taboos. For of course sexual desire, being instinctive, is to be gratified whenever it does not conflict with the preservation of the species.
Abolition, 33. The notion of instinct as the basis for morality presents significant problems. The first which C. S. Lewis discusses in his Abolition of Man relates to the problem of determinism. If instinct is what drives us on compulsively, if we have no choice but to obey instinct, then it would appear that all is determined by "unreflective or spontaneous impulse." In which case, it would seem, there is no basis for morality. We are going to do what instinct compels us to do willy nilly, and there does not seem much point in encouraging certain behavior or discouraging other behavior since instinct does what instinct does.

To circumvent the determinism problem, the advocate of instinct must then say that man has a choice in the matter, and therefore may suggest that instinct is not compelling yet it has a measure of oughtness to it. But this is to trade one problem for another, and the problem traded for is one that begs the question. If we ought to obey instinct, why is it that we ought to? Is there an instinct above the instinct that informs us that we ought to obey instinct, a sort of Urinstinkt or primal or meta-instinct above the ordinary instinct that informs the latter's oughtness? If so, then why ought we to obey this primal or meta-instinct? Is there a primal-primal instinct, a meta-meta instinct, an ururinstinkt? And we begin to see the kind of Borgian infinite regress we have just entered. Adding more primals and metas and urs to a word doesn't really get us anywhere. "This is presumably impossible, but nothing else will serve." Lewis finds the kernel of illogic in the argument, and it is similar to the Humean "is/ought" problem he detected in the utilitarian:
From the statement about psychological fact 'I have an impulse to do so and so' we cannot be any ingenuity derive the practical principle 'I ought to obey this impulse'. Even if it were true that men had a spontaneous, unreflective impulse to sacrifice their own lives for the preservation of their fellows,** it remains a quite separate question whether this is an impulse they should control or one they should indulge.
As if the problem of infinite regress were not enough for the instinctivist to try to tackle, Lewis then asks what standard the instinctivists*** reach for in determining what instincts should be followed and which should not. It is a fundamental experience which no man can deny: "Our instincts are at war." Abolition, 36. When instincts clash, and we are instructed that one instinct should take precedence, "whence do we derive this rule of precedence?" Instincts do not judge themselves. There must be something outside the instincts to judge them.

The idea that, without appealing to any court higher than the instincts themselves, we can yet find grounds for preferring one instinct above its fellows dies very hard. We grasp at useless words: we call it the 'basic', or 'fundamental', or 'primal', or 'deepest' instinct. It is of no avail. Either these words conceal a value judgment passed upon the instinct and therefore not derivable from it, or else they merely record its felt intensity, the frequency of its operation and its wide distribution. If the former, the whole attempt to base value upon instinct has been abandoned: if the latter, these observations about the quantitative aspects of a psychological event lead to no practical conclusion. It is the old dilemma. Either the premises already concealed an imperative or the conclusion remains merely in the indicative.

Abolition, 36-37. It looks more and more like instinctivists, sort of like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, are caught up in some sort of spiraling gyre and heading out of Kansas into some Ozian world of logic. Or perhaps, more classically, it looks like the instinctivists in their Odyssean quest for a basic of morality are being ineluctably swallowed up by some sort of Charybdian enemy of logic.

Ur, ur, ur, ur, ur, ur, ur, ur . . .

Lewis has yet another point against the instinctivists, specific to the notion of preservation of the species as a "basic" instinct. He has doubts that it even exists, and that if it exists it is conventional. How go about proving that it is an instinct at all?
I do not discovery [an instinct to care for posterity] in myself . . . . Much less do I find it easy to believe that the majority of people who have sat opposite me in buses or stood with me in queues feel an unreflective impulse to do anything at all about the species, or posterity. . . . . What we have by nature is an impulse to preserve our own children and grandchildren; an impulse which grows progressively feebler as the imagination looks forward and finally dies out in the 'deserts of vast futurity'.*** . . . . If we are to base ourselves upon instinct, these things are the substance, and care for posterity the shadow--the huge, flickering shadow of he nursery happiness cast upon the screen of the unknown future.
Abolition, 38-39. What it looks like to Lewis is that the alleged instinct of preservation of the species is not something instinctive, but a taste highly refined and reflective, one nurtured not natured, and one generally found in such characters, many of them misanthropic but some just idealistic activists, with grandiose idealogies such as the the innocuous pedagogue and social reformer Friedrich Fröbel, the liberal political philosopher Rousseau, and the much less liberal and much more ominous Marx, Hitler, Mao, or Pol Pot.
*Lewis was Anglican with Catholic leanings. Published in 1943, his book Abolition of Man came after the controversial Lambeth Conference in 1930. Look at the great Fall of the Anglican Church, the great sexual apostasy in just one decade between the Sixth Lambeth Conference (1920) and the Seventh Lambeth Conference (1930).
Here is the Anglican teaching in 1920:

Resolution 68

Problems of Marriage and Sexual Morality

The Conference, while declining to lay down rules which will meet the needs of every abnormal case, regards with grave concern the spread in modern society of theories and practices hostile to the family. We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers - physical, moral and religious - thereby incurred, and against the evils with which the extension of such use threatens the race. In opposition to the teaching which, under the name of science and religion, encourages married people in the deliberate cultivation of sexual union as an end in itself, we steadfastly uphold what must always be regarded as the governing considerations of Christian marriage. One is the primary purpose for which marriage exists, namely the continuation of the race through the gift and heritage of children; the other is the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control.

We desire solemnly to commend what we have said to Christian people and to all who will hear.

Here is the Anglican teaching only one decade later, in 1930:
Resolution 15

The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.

Voting: For 193; Against 67.
By 1968, at the Tenth Lambeth Conference, the Anglican bishops had the temerity to disagree with Pope Paul VI's recent encyclical Humanae vitae which reaffirmed the Tao and the Church's teaching regarding artificial contraception:
Resolution 22

Responsible Parenthood

This Conference has taken note of the papal encyclical letter Humanae vitae recently issued by his holiness Pope Paul VI. This Conference records its appreciation for the pope's deep concern for the institution of marriage and the integrity of married life.

Nevertheless, the Conference finds itself unable to agree with the Pope's conclusion that all methods of conception control other than abstinence from sexual intercourse or its confinement to periods of infecundity are contrary to the "order established by God." It reaffirms the findings of the Lambeth Conference of 1958 contained in Resolutions 112, 113, and 115 which are as follows:

112. The Conference records its profound conviction that the idea of the human family is rooted in the Godhead and that consequently all problems of sex relations, the procreation of children, and the organisation of family life must be related, consciously and directly, to the creative, redemptive, and sanctifying power of God.

113. The Conference affirms that marriage is a vocation to holiness, through which men and women may share in the love and creative purpose of God. The sins of self-indulgence and sensuality, born of selfishness and a refusal to accept marriage as a divine vocation, destroy its true nature and depth, and the right fullness and balance of the relationship between men and women. Christians need always to remember that sexual love is not an end in itself nor a means to self-gratification, and that self-discipline and restraint are essential conditions of the responsible freedom of marriage and family planning.

115. The Conference believes that the responsibility for deciding upon the number and frequency of children has been laid by God upon the consciences of parents everywhere; that this planning, in such ways as are mutually acceptable to husband and wife in Christian conscience, is a right and important factor in Christian family life and should be the result of positive choice before God. Such responsible parenthood, built on obedience to all the duties of marriage, requires a wise stewardship of the resources and abilities of the family as well as a thoughtful consideration of the varying population needs and problems of society and the claims of future generations.

The Conference commends the Report of Committee 5 of the Lambeth Conference 1958, together with the study entitled "The Family in Contemporary Society" which formed the basis of the work of that Committee, to the attention of all men of good will for further study in the light of the continuing sociological and scientific developments of the past decades.

So facilely, easily did the Anglicans cast of the natural law's teaching on artificial contraception and the meaning and purpose of the conjugal act. The lawlessness, 'tis true, is draped in pious sounding language: but that is about as effective as suggesting a traitor's corpse is patriotic because it is a coffin and draped in an American Flag. I do not know Lewis's personal views on the liciety of artificial contraception, although he appears to be generally against it in this particular text.
**One should recall that Lewis is here exploring the concrete teaching: dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (it is a sweet and useful thing to die for one's country) from the perspective of those who reject the Tao. It is his experimentum crucis, or critical experiment, meant to ferret out the problems of the non-traditionalist, liberal, subjective and relativist view.
***Lewis has some lengthy footnotes discussing the doctrines of literary critic Ivor Armstrong Richards (1893-1979) and the biologist Conrad Hal Waddington (1905–1975) not discussed herein.
****This appears to be an allusion to Marvell's "To his Coy Mistress":
But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Need for the Tao: C. S. Lewis and the Natural Law

LIBERALISM AND RELATIVISM IN EDUCATION IS FATAL to the human spirit because it excludes reality from its auspices, and so is completely unable to come to terms with the emotional life of man. Sentiment can be reasonable or unreasonable, but in the world of liberalism and relativism the standard by which sentiment can be judged and then reined is rejected. Plato's chariot runs wild: the horse of reason will never control the horse of passion.* The Gaiuses and Titituses of the world exclude a "reference to something beyond the emotion." Abolition, 20.

As C. S. Lewis observes emotions, in themselves, are arational or non-rational. If they are regarded as irrational, it is not because they are ipso facto against reason; rather, they are irrational only in the sense that the emotion or sentiment, judged against the external standard, is adjudged aberrant. To judge some emotions as irrational and others as rational, then, one has to to stand within the Tao, and not outside of it like the modern educators that C. S. Lewis criticizes. Those within the Tao, within the tradition, within the natural law, see the task of moral formation, of education, of paideia, of the studia humanitatis.

For those within [the Tao, the task is to train in the pupil those responses which are in themselves appropriate, whether anyone is making them or not, and in making which the very nature of man consists. Those without, if they are logical, must regard all sentiments as equally non-rational, as mere mists between us and the real objects. As a result, they must either decide to remove all sentiments, as far as possible, from the pupil's mind; or else to encourage some sentiments for reasons that have nothing to do with their intrinsic 'justness' or 'ordinacy'.

Abolition 21.

C. S. Lewis concretizes, and he takes as an example a Roman father, let us call him Marcus Porcius, steeped in the traditions of a Republican Rome: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, the Father, quoting the poet Horace** instructs his son. "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country." The Roman father believed that such an emotion was fitting, was true, and was ordered to nobility in death for causes greater than oneself such as the common good. Gaius and Titius would find this statement impossible. Two courses would be open to them: they either debunk the sentiment of patriotism which Marcus Porcius wishes to instill in his son, or they must find some other basis for inculcating such a sentiment other than that it is right, perhaps by seizing a utilitarian motive. Either way, the young Roman has been corrupted if his head and heart are influenced by Gaius and Titius. What in the old way was pedagogy--a system of educare, of drawing out, of inculturare, of inculturating, is not the same thing in the new.

Men Without Chests

If instead of mere debunking the emotion the modern educator who has rejected the guidance of the Tao turns to steer emotions, there is much to beware. Since such a one rejects the Tao, his only standard is his own, an arbitrary one, an ideology. Pedagogy, then, becomes demagogy or ideagogy (to coin a neologism)--a system of propagandization, of brain washing. The words dulci et decorum est pro patria mori are decidedly different in the lips of a Roman father, steeped in the Tao, than in the hands of an idealogue who stands without the Tao. They become too horrible to hear on the lips of the Islam radical cleric, say an Abu Hamza al-Masri, or on the lips of Baldur von Schirach, the Reichsjugendführer or leader of the Hitler Youth movement. Both of these latter stand outside the Tao.

If, however, the modern educator turns to debunking the emotion on the basis that there is no objective standard by which to measure it, while it may be slightly less objectionable than the person who co-opts the emotions to recruit them to his ideology, it still is a destructive response. To begin with, the denial of objective standards is itself problematic. Can virtues even exist if there is no objective reality? Assuming that they can, can the virtues exist when unsupported by properly trained emotions? Pace Socrates and his belief that knowledge alone is necessary and sufficient to assure justice,*** it seems apparent to Lewis that the proposition is rather dubious:
Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. . . . In battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of bombardment. . . . The head rules the belly through the chest--the seat, as Alanus tells us,**** of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment--these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.
Abolition, 24-25. It is Alan of Lille's Magnanimity, the seat of the emotions that hover between the viscera, the pudenda, below and the mind, the Geist, above, that Lewis calls a man's chest. The liberals, then, seek to create men without Magnanimity, without trained or habitually disposed emotions, "Men without Chests."

Liberals, of course, like to think themselves as intellectuals, and those who insist that traditional values ought to be inculcated in youth and believe in an objective normative order against which emotions ought to be judged they view as fools. But this is an outrage, as the intellectual virtues are not possessed by the liberals alone, and any perception of a big brain is only the result of a trick of the senses, and optical or intellectual illusion:

It is an outrage that they [the liberal debunkers] should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so. . . . Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath them that makes them seem so.

Abolition, 25. And the "tragi-comedy" of liberal making is that the liberals cannot figure things out. They cannot seem to solve social problems they have engendered or exacerbated, and they refuse to believe that it may be their theories that are the problem to begin with:
We make men without chests and we expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor [or chastity, or piety, or obedience, or any other virtuous quality] and we are shocked to find traitors [or pedophiles, or Satan worshipers, or anarchists] in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
Abolition, 26.

Let us leave the Lewisian horse metaphor and speak plainly: We unman men, emasculate them, and then expect them to have, as we might say in South Texas, cojones. To continue the South Texas theme: That dog just don't hunt.
*See Plato, Phaedrus, 246a-254e.
**Horace, Odes (III.2.13).
***See Plato's Protagoras, 361b. See also discussion of Plato's Protagoras in Contra Consequentialismum: Virtue.
****For Alanus ab Insulis (Alan of Lille) and his De Planctu Naturae, see, generally the posting Nature's Complaint: Alan of Lille's The Plaint of Nature, Part 1. For the particular reference to Magnanimity referred to be Lewis, see the posting Alan of Lille's The Plaint of Nature, Part 3.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Debunking of Traditional Values: C. S. Lewis and the Natural Law

IT IS NOT ONLY THE SUBJECTIVIZATION of reality that is insulted by the authors of The Green Book and which offends C. S. Lewis's traditional values. Gaius and Titius, the epithets given by C. S. Lewis to the authors of The Green Book, engaged in a two prong attack. First, they conflated the objective and the subjective, making the subjective the only thing that is real, and therefore making everything unreal. But they also go about "debunking" or deprecating traditional habits or sentiments under the guise of rationalism. If they succeed, then, in removing the habit by debunking the sentiment associated with it, they will have left a man flailing in the winds of subjectivism all under the guise of being rational.

The authors of The Green Book take issue at a "silly" advertisement for a cruise to the "Western Ocean where Drake of Devon sailed." That the "venal and bathetic exploitation of those emotions of awe and pleasure which men feel in visiting places that have striking associations with history or legend" which this advertisement makes trite is certainly something C. S. Lewis understands. The right course would have been to show how these emotions might be properly expressed. But instead of attacking the advertisement, The Green Book attacks the emotion that the advertisement seeks to exploit and which necessarily it cheapens by such exploitation.

There is something fundamentally human in the desire to visit places that have great significance in history or in legend or in faith. It is what drives us to pilgrimage, to Santiago de Compostela, to Bethlehem, to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It is what drives the Muslim to Mecca, the Hindu to the Ganges, the Buddhist to Bodh Gaya. The desire is not only religious, as we see it expressed by the desire to travel to Stonehenge, the Pyramids of Giza, the Parthenon in Athens, the Gettysburg National Cemetery, or the facade of the Library of Celsus, the remarkable Theater, or the humble abode of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Ephesus. The places accorded special status are as various as the desires of the men that visit them. This fundamental and deep desire in man is seen, and honored even in its triteness, in its most cheap manifestations, say, the visits to Graceland by the fans of Elvis Presley. How many texts were available to Gaius and Titius to which they could point to as examples of proper expression of such emotion? Between the 4th century account of Etheria's pilgrimage to Jerusalem to John Muir's account of his night at the Bonaventure Cemetery in Georgia, hundreds of texts abound! C. S. Lewis points to Samuel Johnson's passage from his A Journey to the Western Islands:

We were no treading that illustrious island, which was one the luminary of the Caledonian regions, whence savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge, and the blessing of religion. To abstract the mind from all local emotion would be impossible, if it were endeavoured, and would be foolish, if it were possible. Whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses; whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings. Far from me and from my friends, be such frigid philosophy as may conduct us indifferent and unmoved over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery, or virtue. That man is little to be envied, whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plan of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona.

(Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides(London: Penguin 1984), 140-41.

Yet it is just this "foolish" and "frigid philosophy" mentioned by Johnson that the authors of The Green Book are peddling! Instead of ennobling the emotion, instead of criticizing its exploitation by the advertisers and the draping of it in verbal kitsch, the authors "debunk" the emotion itself as irrational:
What [the authors] actually do is to point out that the luxurious motor-vessel won't really sail where Drake did, that the tourists will not have any adventures, that the treasures they bring home will be of a purely metaphorical nature, and that a trip to Margate* might provide 'all the pleasure and rest' they required. . . . What [the schoolboy] will learn quickly enough, and perhaps indelibly, is the belief that all emotions aroused by local association are in themselves contrary to reason and contemptible--that it falls equally flat on those who are above it and those who are below it, on the man of real sensibility and on the mere trousered ape . . . .
Abolition, 8-9.

Automedon and the Horses of Achilles,
by Henri Alexandre Georges Regnault (1868)

The same sort of "debunking," though perhaps in a less severe form, occurs in another text to which C. S. Lewis refers his auditor or reader. This text, by a certain "Orbilius"** who attacks a "silly bit of writing on horses, where these animals are praised as the 'willing servants' of the early colonists in Australia.'" The Orbilian criticism is that horses, being brute animals, are not interested in colonial expansion, and so it is not literally accurate, not according to the letter (secundum litteram) to suggest it. But what is this? This is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The evil is poor writing, not the deep regard that man ought to have for animals, and which has traditionally been expressed by the "semi-anthropomorphic treatment of beasts . . . . and of the literature where it finds noble or piquant expression." Abolition, 10. Why shut this tradition down? Why deprecate the Brer Rabbit of the Uncle Remus stories by J. C. Harris, or Peter Cottontail of Beatrix Potter and remove this genre from children? And who and why would someone debunk the noble tradition of referring to horses, or dogs for that matter, as man's companion? Who would squelch from grown men the lines of Matthew Arnold's poem "Sohrab and Rustum," and their telling of Rustum's faithful horse, Ruksh, who grieved with his master?
So arm'd, he issued forth; and Ruksh, his horse,
Follow'd him like a faithful hound at heel--
Ruksh, whose renown was noised through all the earth . . .
When they saw Rustum's grief; and Ruksh, the horse,
With his head bowing to the ground and mane
Sweeping the dust, came near, and in mute woe
First to the one then to the other moved
His head, as if enquiring what their grief
Might mean; and from his dark, compassionate eyes,
The big warm tears roll'd down, and caked the sand.

Or even poignant, weeping horses of Achilles, Xanthus and Balius, who, in their sorrow for Patroclus, would not enter battle?
But the horses of Aikides standing apart from the battle
wept, as they had done since they heard how their charioteer
had fallen in the dust at the hands of murderous Hektor.

ἵπποι δ᾽ Αἰακίδαο μάχης ἀπάνευθεν ἐόντες
κλαῖον, ἐπεὶ δὴ πρῶτα πυθέσθην ἡνιόχοιο
ἐν κονίῃσι πεσόντος ὑφ᾽ Ἕκτορος ἀνδροφόνοιο.
Iliad, XVII.426-28 (Lattimore, trans.) Are such anthropomorphisms irrational, or are they rather non-rational? What is it Orbilius wants? For us to become Black Beauty's Mr Nicholas Skinner?

Some pleasure in their own ponies and dogs they will have lost; some incentive to cruelty or neglect they will have received; some pleasure in their own knowingness will have entered their minds. That is their day's lesson in English, though of English they have learned nothing.

Abolition, 11.

It may be, though Lewis doubts it, that of Gaius and Titius and Orbilius it may be said:
They may really hold that the ordinary human feelings about the past or animals or large waterfalls are contrary to reason and contemptible and ought to be eradicated. They may be intending to make a clean sweep of traditional values and start with a new set.
Abolition, 12. If this is the case, it obviously has no place in books of English and Literature. More likely, what's involved is a sort of intellectual torpor. More likely it is not "theory they put in [the schoolboy's mind], but an assumption." Abolition, 5 (emphasis added). It is an assumption, moreover, based on lazy thought. "To explain why a bad treatment of some basic human emotion is bad literature is, if we exclude all question-begging attacks on the emotion itself, a very hard thing to do." Abolition, 13. Much easier is to "'debunk' the emotion, on the basis of a commonplace rationalism," as that is within the simpleton's ability. It is, in fact replacing triteness with banality, replacing "weak excess of sensibility" with "the slumber of cold vulgarity." Abolition, 13. So not only is the cure contraindicated, the disease is misdiagnosed. "The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts." Abolition, 13-14.

The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.

Abolition, 14. And the modern educators have given their students both a starved sensibility and a soft head. It is this simultaneous combination of subjectivism (all is emotion, and emotion has no tie to the real) and deprecation of emotion that is particularly vicious. It is as foolish as having a society with neither custom nor law. It is a moral anarchy that is being taught under the ruse that it is of reason. It is like a man without a heart, whose head looks big only because his chest has imploded. Inside it is is all gangrenous.

The job of the educator is not to grow "men without chests," or "trousered apes" with mindless hearts, or "urban blockheads" with heartless minds. The task of the educator is to grow a "men of real sensibility," men of tradition, men with both heart and mind. Real men. Men, incidentally, though one within the tradition would already know this, means both men and women.

The problem is that the modern educator has jettisoned the philosophical and pedagogical tools to be able to do this. To order emotions, there must be a standard against which the emotions are to be ordered. Our emotions must be congruous or incongruous to some external norm, and the tradition found this normative measure in the cosmos, in nature. Traditionally, the datum against which emotions were weighed was objective. This is the inheritance of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Traherne, Coleridge, even Shelley. Looking East, it was the inheritance of Hinduism's Ṛta, the Confucian shù,and the Oriental Tao. The tradition has been lost, particularly in the West. Where is it taught in the public schools or the colleges and universities, taught by a whole army of willing or unwilling Gaiuses and Titiuses and Orbliuses, priests of relative liberalism, priests of such idiocies, such pseudo-histories as Black Athena?

If such a standard is to be found anywhere in any way hale and whole, it is in the Catholic Church which has preserved it much like the Benedictines of old preserved the pagan classics in their scriptoria. She shouts it from the the seven hills of Rome, but also from the Collis Vaticanus, in the person of Benedict XVI all dressed in white, who warns about the tyranny of relativism. Most of his words are devoured, put into soundbites or misinterpreted, before they reach the people. Some of his words fall rocky ground, where they yield no fruit for want of soil. Some of his words fall among thorns of materialism and of lust, and are choked out of life. Thus, for various reasons, the rich in modern culture, and poor in the tradition, walk empty away, though their pockets are laden with their paper money and their latex condoms. They walk away looking like Lewis's urban blockheads and trousered apes: men without chests. Thus far none but the powerless, the anawim, seem to listen. And they wait, this faithful remnant, for the time that the seed the Pope is trying to plant should grab root, grow, and bear fruit and should yield thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.
*Margate was a popular local resort for Londoners and other English vacationers.
**Again using an pseudonym so as to charitably (or maybe not so charitably given the connotation attached to the name) to protect the author, C. S. Lewis is referring to E. G. Biaggini's The Reading and Writing of English (1936). Orbilius refers to the Roman grammarian and language teacher (114 BC – c. 14 BC), Lucius Orbilius Pupillus. The Roman poet Horace (Epistulae II.1, 70) called him Orbilius Plagosus or "Orbilius the Flogger" because of his abuse of pupils who translated Homer's Greek poorly.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Conformity to Good is True: C. S. Lewis and the Natural Law

THE SENSE THAT EMOTIONS OUGHT TO CORRESPOND TO REALITY, that the subjective world of an individual man should appropriately conform to the objective world around him, was, until fairly recently, regarded as a commonplace. Even such free-thinking neurotics such as Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) recognized the link, an umbilical cord as it were, between the objective and subjective worlds, and understood that human sensibilities were like an Aeolian lyre, which could be tuned through "internal adjustment" so that it could "accomodate its chords to the motions of that which strikes them." Abolition, 16-17.[1]

C. S. Lewis also reaches back to the English poet Thomas Traherne (ca. 1636 - 1674), to the latter's Centuries of Meditations, for a literary anecdotal evidence that such congruence between objective world and subjective response was the foundation of virtue. "Can you be righteous," Traherene asks rhetorically--which itself is evidence of how common the belief was--"unless you be just in rendering to things their due esteem?" Abolition, 15-16.[2]

The concept that is assumed and shared by both Shelley and Traherne has both Christian and Pagan roots, which is evidence of its fundamental humanness. It is shared by Saint Augustine, who, in his magnum opus De Civitate Dei (On the City of God), calls virtue ordo amoris, which is to say "the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it." Abolition, 16.[3] It is at the heart of the Greek notion of paideia (παιδεία), of education, when Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics states "that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought." Abolition, 16.[4]

Inculcating a proper correspondence between internal emotional states or affections and the objective order, especially among the youth, is central to the educational enterprise as traditionally understood. Through this sort of teaching, youth are trained to be predisposed to liking and not liking things in proportion to the objective fact of whether they are good or not good. The young man or woman then has a well-ordered predisposition to like what is good and dislike what is bad as a result of being taught the proper correspondence between objective world and a proper moral subjective response to it when he comes to the age of reason, "the age of reflective thought." If, instead of being properly ordered through proper training, this correspondence between objective order and affection is corrupted during youth's formative stage, it may be that the need for emotion to correspond justly to the objective world "will never be visible at all," and the young man or woman as he or she reaches adulthood will be unable to make progress in the science of Ethics. The moral world, the natural law, will be virtually foreclosed to him, or at least veiled from him, in whole or in part.

The Tao (道)

The wisdom of this insight is the inheritance of mankind. It is, for example, found in Plato, who in his Republic speaks specifically of the need to train the youth to appreciate the correspondence between the objective world and the subjective world of emotion, of passion, of affection.[5] It is, moreover, shared by the Hindu notion of Ṛta (ऋतं), which means something that is properly joined, a correspondence between a person and the truth, the real order, the pattern of the cosmos. As Lewis defines it, Ṛta is "that great ritual or patten of nature and supernature which is revealed alike in the cosmic order, the moral virtues, and the ceremonial of the temple. Righteousness, correctness, order, the Rta, is constantly identified with satya or truth, correspondence to reality." Abolition, 17. The same concept is comprehended by the notion of the Tao (道). What is the Tao or Dao?

It is the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself. It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road. It is the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge, stilly and tranquilly, into space and time. It is also the Way which every man should tread in the imitation of that cosmic and supercosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar.

Abolition, 18. The notion of law as a correspondence to truth is also found among the revelation of the Jew. As an example of this, Lewis reaches into the Psalms, specifically Psalm 119(118):151, where the Law, God's commandments, his mitzvot (מִצְוֹתֶ), are venerated as truth, emeth (אֱמֶת).
You are near, O LORD, And all Your commandments are truth.

ἐγγὺς εἶ σύ κύριε καὶ πᾶσαι αἱ ἐντολαί σου ἀλήθεια

קָרֹוב אַתָּה יְהוָה וְכָל־מִצְוֹתֶיךָ אֱמֶת׃

Prope es tu Domine et omnia mandata tua veritas.
The Hebrew word used in the Psalm, אֱמֶת, or emeth--translated by the Septuagint as ἀλήθεια and by the Vulgate as veritas--means firmness, faithfulness, in short, truth. The Hebrew word connotes less a correspondence theory of truth, which is the connotation of the Hindu satya (सत्या), but instead emphasizes a reliability, firmness, trustworthiness, and permanence of truth. But the essential principle is the same, and and whether viewed as a correspondence or as firmness, the fundamental principle is shared among all great religions and philosophies of all time.
This conception in all its forms, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, and Oriental alike, I shall henceforth refer to for brevity simply as "the Tao". . . . It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are. . . .
Abolition, 18.

Lewis's Tao is, in short, the concept that we have been advocating in this blog. It is the notion of the Eternal Law, and of man's particular participation in that Eternal Law, the Natural Law.

[1] Lewis quotes Shelley's In Defence of Poetry, Part I, ¶2, §§ 7, 8. The entire quote is:
§7 Man is an instrument over which a series of external and internal impressions are driven, like the alternations of an ever-changing wind over an Æolian lyre; which move it, by their motion, to ever-changing melody. §8 But there is a principle within the human being and perhaps within all sentient beings, which acts otherwise than in the lyre, and produces not melody alone, but harmony, by an internal adjustment of the sounds or motions thus excited to the impressions which excite them. §9 It is as if the lyre could accomodate its chords to the motions of that which strikes them, in a determined proportion of sound; even as the musician can accomodate his voice to the sound of the lyre. §10 A child at play by itself will express its delight by its voice and motions; and every inflexion of tone and every gesture will bear exact relation to a corresponding antitype in the pleasurable impressions which awakened it; it will be the reflected image of that impression; and as the lyre trembles and sounds after the wind has died away, so the child seeks by prolonging in its voice and motions the duration of the effect, to prolong also a consciousness of the cause. §11 In relation to the objects which delight a child, these expressions are, what Poetry is to higher objects. §12 The savage (for the savage is to ages what the child is to years) expresses the emotions produced in him by surrounding objects in a similar manner; and language and gesture, together with plastic or pictorial imitation, become the image of the combined effect of those objects and of his apprehension of them. §13 Man in society, with all his passions and his pleasures, next becomes the object of the passions and pleasures of man; an additional class of emotions produces an augmented treasure of expressions, and language, gesture and the imitative arts become at once the representation and the medium, the pencil and the picture, the chisel and the statue, the chord and the harmony. §14 The social sympathies, or those laws from which as from its elements society results, begin to develope themselves from the moment that two human beings co-exist; the future is contained within the present as the plant within the seed; and equality, diversity, unity, contrast, mutual dependance become the principles alone capable of affording the motives according to which the will of a social being is determined to action, inasmuch as he is social; and constitute pleasure in sensation, virtue in sentiment, beauty in art, truth in reasoning, and love in the intercourse of kind. §15 Hence men, even in the infancy of society, observe a certain order in their words and actions, distinct from that of the objects and the impressions represented by them, all expression being subject to the laws of that from which it proceeds. §16 But let us dismiss those more general considerations which might involve an enquiry into the principles of society itself, and restrict our view to the manner in which the imagination is expressed upon its forms.

[2] Lewis quotes, in part, from Traherene's Centuries of Meditations, i.12. The entire section is as follows:
Can you be Holy without accomplishing the end for which you are created? Can you be Divine unless you be Holy? Can you accomplish the end for which you were created, unless you be Righteous? Can you then be Righteous, unless you be just in rendering to Things their due esteem? All things were made to be yours; and you were made to prize them according to their value: which is your office and duty, the end for which you were created, and the means whereby you enjoy. The end for which you were created, is that by prizing all that God hath done, you may enjoy yourself and Him in Blessedness.

[3] Lewis cites principally to De Civ. Dei, xv.22, but also to ix.5, and xi.28. Excerpts to the first citation is provided in the original Latin and in English (Marcus Dods, trans.) translation:
. . . . quemadmodum iustitia deserta et aurum amatur ab avaris, nullo peccato auri, sed hominis. Ita se habet omnis creatura. Cum enim bona sit, et bene amari potest et male: bene scilicet ordine custodito, male ordine perturbato. Quod in laude quadam cerei breviter versibus dixi: "Haec tua sunt, bona sunt, quia tu bonus ista creasti. Nihil nostrum est in eis, nisi quod peccamus amantes ordine neglecto pro te, quod conditur abs te." [Cf. Ant. lat.; cf. anche Laus Cerei (PL 46, 817)] Creator autem si veraciter ametur, hoc est si ipse, non aliud pro illo quod non est ipse, ametur, male amari non potest. Nam et amor ipse ordinate amandus est, quo bene amatur quod amandum est, ut sit in nobis virtus qua vivitur bene. Unde mihi videtur, quod definitio brevis et vera virtutis ordo est amoris; propter quod in sancto Cantico canticorum cantat sponsa Christi, civitas Dei: Ordinate in me caritatem. [Cant 2, 4.]

When the miser prefers his gold to justice, it is through no fault of the gold, but of the man; and so with every created thing. For though it be good, it may be loved with an evil as well as with a good love: it is loved rightly when it is loved ordinately; evilly, when inordinately. It is this which some one has briefly said in these verses in praise of the Creator: "These are Yours, they are good, because You are good who created them. There is in them nothing of ours, unless the sin we commit when we forget the order of things, and instead of You love that which You have made."

But if the Creator is truly loved, that is, if He Himself is loved and not another thing in His stead, He cannot be evilly loved; for love itself is to be ordinately loved, because we do well to love that which, when we love it, makes us live well and virtuously. So that it seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love; and on this account, in the Canticles, the bride of Christ, the city of God, sings, "Order love within me." Song of Songs 2:4

[4]Lewis quotes Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1104b. The reference in the Greek and in English translation (H. Rackham, trans.) is provided below:
περὶ ἡδονὰς γὰρ καὶ λύπας ἐστὶν ἡ ἠθικὴ ἀρετή: διὰ μὲν γὰρ τὴν ἡδονὴν τὰ φαῦλα πράττομεν, διὰ δὲ τὴν λύπην τῶν καλῶν ἀπεχόμεθα. διὸ δεῖ ἦχθαί πως εὐθὺς ἐκ νέων, ὡς ὁ Πλάτων φησίν, ὥστε χαίρειν τε καὶ λυπεῖσθαι οἷς δεῖ: ἡ γὰρ ὀρθὴ παιδεία αὕτη ἐστίν.

In fact pleasures and pains are the things with which moral virtue is concerned. For pleasure causes us to do base actions and pain cause us to abstain from doing noble actions. Hence the importance, as Plato points out, of having been definitely trained from childhood to like and dislike the proper things; this is what good education means.

[5] Lewis refers to Plato's Laws (653), and quotes rather loosely from Plato's Republic (401d-402a) which refers to the education of youth in music:
"In the Republic, the well-nurtured you is one 'who would see most clearly whatever was amiss in ill-made works of man or ill-grown works of nature, and with a just distaste would blame and hate the ugly even from his earliest years and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so that he becomes a man of gentle heart. All this before he is of an age to reason; so that when Reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hands in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her."
Abolition, 16-17. The principle with respect to education in music in the Republic is extended to education generally in the Laws. The heart of the Platonic text referred to by Lewis is the following:
γίγνοιτο καλός τε κἀγαθός, τὰ δ᾽ αἰσχρὰ ψέγοι τ᾽ ἂν ὀρθῶς καὶ μισοῖ ἔτι νέος ὤν, πρὶν λόγον δυνατὸς εἶναι λαβεῖν, ἐλθόντος δὲ τοῦ λόγου ἀσπάζοιτ᾽ ἂν αὐτὸν γνωρίζων δι᾽ οἰκειότητα μάλιστα ὁ οὕτω τραφείς.

The ugly he would rightly disapprove of and hate while still young and yet unable to apprehend the reason, but when reason came the man thus nurtured would be the first to give her welcome, for by this affinity he would know her.